Virtually everyone is infatuated with Instagram and Snapchat. Few of us can remember the days before Facebook and Twitter.

But email is still the best way to drive sales. In fact, a survey we conducted revealed that nearly 60 percent of Americans prefer brands contact them via email, and email marketing continues to yield higher ROI for marketers than any other channel. We can say with certainty that 2016 will be a boom year for email.

Yet most brands still haven’t mastered the medium—and from where I stand, it’s not from lack of trying. They are simply missing the key steps to improving their email strategy.

The good news is that campaign management strategies are now accessible to email marketers, and can help them segment, target, and manage emails. With New Year’s just around the corner, now’s the time for digital marketers to make good on their resolutions and take a fresh approach aimed at improving their email strategy.

Less is more

Spending less and saving more is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions, and consumers will certainly be on the lookout for sales. Many brands look to take advantage of this primed market by flooding inboxes. Even high-end retailers like Neiman Marcus send north of 500 promotional emails, annually. And the business model of traditional ESPs is based on the number of emails sent, so they continue to promote the idea that blasting all those inboxes multiple times a week will garner traction.

Excessive marketing, though, can be counterproductive. Emails can annoy people and sour them on the sender. Indeed, over 40 percent of corporate listserv recipients complain about the volume of email they receive.

The lesson is clear. Marketers should prioritize quality over quantity. Brands must think through and implement smart fatigue rules to realize the benefits of sending fewer emails. It’s better for your customers, better for your brand reputation, and better for your top and bottom lines.

Personalize and put emails in context

Customers have grown weary of mass email blasts. They know that the companies behind them are just playing a cynical numbers game. A recent survey from digital marketing firm Autopilot found that three in four Americans are “frustrated” with generic marketing emails.

On the flip side, half consider the most important aspect of any marketing material to be whether it is “personalized to their needs.” And over half said they are much more likely to open a promotional email if they feel a “personal connection” to the brand.

Companies have access to more data about their target markets than ever before. They should use that information to customize pitches to the specific needs of individual customers.

Even limited personalization can generate substantial upticks in customer engagement. One study found that simply changing the email subject line to include a reference to the recipient’s state of residence improved open rates by 22 percent.

Marketers need to put subject lines and emails in context, looking at what you know about each individual, their preference, how they interact with a brand, and even how they interact in other marketing channels.

Think beyond demographics

Customers are more than their demographic profile. They’re human beings with specific needs, wants, worries, and dreams. And yet, most marketers fail to reach out in a way that’s sensitive to these complexities.

Customizing emails to be sensitive to the specifics of an individual customer — beyond their race, gender, or income — can yield big rewards. Companies that leverage data to connect with their customers through targeted, contextual emails have experienced dramatic improvements in open rates. For example, a museum that shared personalized emails based on visitor data, such as information about membership and time-stamped details about museum entry, parking, meals at restaurants, and gift shop purchases, achieved a 53 percent unique open rate.

It’s also important to remember that people frequently check their inboxes on their mobile devices. So marketing content must be optimized for that format; images need to properly scale, links should be touchscreen-friendly, content should be concise, and the email must load quickly.

When businesses don’t properly customize, the drop-off in customer engagement is precipitous.

Choose the winner with A/B testing

A/B testing (simultaneously comparing performance between two versions of an interface or campaign) has remained a proven method of safely testing changes and updates prior to the full deployment of a campaign. It’s important to test subject lines, formats, designs, and other elements of your campaign to understand how content will resonate with a specific demographic.

For marketers that have already started A/B testing, there is always room for fine-tuning. Develop a hypothesis, and then test to prove or disprove it. For example, you might test a subject line to find out whether one version gets more clicks.

Say goodbye to batch and blast email tactics. This year, dedicate your time to what matters most. If it hasn’t been tested, then it’s not worth sharing. With A/B testing, marketers can choose the winning campaign ahead of deployment, delivering an optimal, personalized experienced for customers.

In 2016, marketers need to rethink and reinvigorate their email operations. This medium remains exceptionally powerful in driving sales and securing customer loyalty – but only when deployed appropriately.

Stephan_Dietrich headshotStephan Dietrich VP, Adobe Campaign, is responsible for driving Campaign’s vision, strategy and global business development.

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